Thursday, March 3, 2016

City Directories can tear down walls

I've decided to use this blog a more of as my family history journal, to document what I'm looking for and what and where I have found information.  As my own children are growing up, more online resources become available as well as a change in the industry I work for (not the career itself) I now find that I can spend more time researching and documenting our family and their histories.

In the past few months I have been very fortunate to finally find some information on my husband's family.   Despite having a few pictures of his paternal grandfather and great grandfather, both named Peter Joseph Horvath, we knew little to nothing about them.

Even though the last name was not that common, it wasn't very unique either.   Actually there are quite a few Horvath's in the US especially in the central part of the country where they were supposed to be from after migrating from Hungary.   What is even more I think the majority of the men were named Joseph Peter, but this just made searching for them harder in my opinion there were a lot of dead ends and climbing up the wrong trees.  I only had what little information from Peter's ex-wife - my husband's grandmother to go on.

Here is what we did know:   My husband's grandfather Peter Jr was a drinker, he died 24 Dec 1971 in Illinois, his mother was Irene and father was Peter Joseph Horvath.   According to my husband's grandmother (his wife), he drank every night after work to the point he would leave his entire paycheck at the bar.   For a while the bar would return the paycheck to the grandmother knowing that they had several young boys to raise.   However, after a while the paychecks stopped being returned, they were soon divorced  and she set about raising the boys on her own.    She had two pictures of his father, Peter, and two pictures of his mother, Irene.   Peter Sr was an ominous looking man, certainly a business man in the 1930s/1940s with a ganster type of look, in my opinion anyway.   And of course what family doesn't have family rumors.   Ours:   The family business was "Bootlegging" and their circle of friends "Al Capone".   Yes, the Al Capone!

Wow, now why can't I find anything about this side of the family then?   Until last fall I had resigned to believe that due to the nature of their business they were very good at hiding from most records.

My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years and throughout that time I have been researching both his side and my side of the family sometimes take a few years off for various reasons.    I found very little on my husband's side of his paternal family - well let me rephrase that in 26 years of searching I found these things items:

  • the death certificate for his grandfather from the State of Illinois, 
  • where the grandfather was buried through website, 
  • the SSDI record for the great grandmother indicating she died in California from - but was this our Irene Horvath - I believe so based on the date of death but it could be a coincidence too.
    • the death certificate for the great grandmother in California, and 
      • the existence of a daughter also named Irene as taken from the death certificate 
      • occupation of the great grandmother - owner of a restaurant
  • Application of Peter and Irene's marriage in South Bend, Indiana from  - was this really our Peter and Irene - I still am not sure.
Then finally in the fall last year, actually it was after a Christmas shopping trip that I started to look again into this side of the family.  During that trip, I had a conversation with my father-in-law, he told me a few stories regarding his father and grandparents.   Like how they were "Bootleggers" and were friends with Al Capone, they used their grocery store as a front for selling the illegal alcohol.   When he was still a very young is father wanted him to come and help work at the family bar (a business...can you say flakes of gold...I should be able to find something there...), but his mother refused to send him.  He also told us that his grandmother was a force of nature, what she said went!  During a storm their roof was leaking, she told her husband that he needed to fix the out into the storm he went and out onto the roof.   He apparently fell off the roof and died sometime after the fall but not right away.  I was also informed that there was another sister, one who was kidnapped as a young girl but found later however mentally she never recovered.

After this conversation with my father-in-law I just knew that I needed to start researching again.  I started with someone I knew I could find...Al Capone.   I read various articles and searched for the names and faces of his "gang" thinking that maybe the reason I couldn't find their records was because the father changed his name, maybe he was arrested in connection to Capone and his men.  And I still came up short, I found nothing not a mention of the family not a picture that would match the faces.  

So I took a step back and looked at what I did know and what I had heard to be true.   I knew that Peter Jr had 5 sons, I started looking more at records of the grandmother (ex-wife) of Peter.   Opal, now that is a name combination that isn't too prevalent, Opal Horvath.   I got a hit on a newly indexed set of records, City Directories.   There she was along with her husband in 1938 Joliet, Illinois.   Wait when was she in Joliet - this came as a surprise to me actually I'm not sure why but it did surprise me nonetheless.   I have her obit which states she moved to Joliet but by the time her and Peter were married they were in another Illinois town not Joliet.   This city directory was after their marriage date and actually after two of their five children were born.   But there it was in black and white Opal and Peter in Joliet, but that was not all.  In the same address I found Irene, Peter Sr, the unnamed sister "Elizabeth" and an unknown brother John and the family tavern.  This was the first record that I found listing Peter Sr.  I was thrilled to say the least.

I started looking at the other information I had on the children of Peter and Opal, there it was the entire time!  One of their children (my husband's uncle) was born in Joliet.   I can't believe I missed that!   But I was too thrilled with the discovery to be too hard on myself.   Then the flood gates opened.   I was able to track the family between 1925 and 1942 through city directories, the business went from a grocery to a beer distributor to a bar and finally to a tavern.  The change from grocery to bar happened at the time that prohibition ended.   I guess that part of the family stories sure appears to be true.  Based on the address in 1925, I was finally able to find the family in the 1920 census under an incorrectly indexed name.  I am still locating more information on this branch of the tree all the time.   I still don't have on record much but at least it is a start and a lot more than what I had just 4 months ago.   I still have yet to find a death record or date for Peter Sr, but what I did find was interesting to say the least, more possibilities and my wheels are turning too.

In the 1940 census Peter Sr was not listed, or was he?   I did find Irene at the same address listed as the head of the house, but the next line down was crossed out, through the line you can make out "Peter" above the line are the words "In Sanitarium 10 years".   Another lead to follow!

A big thank you goes out to for those initial city directories, without those I don't think I would have this information today.

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